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For Immediate Release
July 20, 2015

New Observatory Being Built July 20-21; Opening in Fall for Undergraduates and Community Members

FORT WAYNE, Ind.—The Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) Department of Physics will soon unveil an investment in the future of the astronomy program, with a former NASA scientist leading the way.

Steve Gillam, assistant professor of physics, is building a mini-observatory on IPFW's North Campus. The observatory will house the department's new telescope in a mount designed and built by an IPFW student.

The telescope will be available for use by IPFW undergraduate students as well as by interested community members. Users will be able to study planets, nearby stars, and distant galaxies and nebulae.

Gillam left academia after earning a Ph.D at the University of Wyoming to begin his career as an engineer at NASA’s world-renowned Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where he won multiple NASA Group Achievement Awards. Gillam’s experience and passion for astronomy made him an ideal addition to the IPFW physics program, which added an astronomy minor in 2012.

Mike Perkins, a physics undergrad with a concentration in opto-electronics, helped Gillam in the process. He designed and built the aluminum base in his grandfather’s machine shop, then integrated the control software with the telescope and a digital camera. With the new software interface, users will now be able to command the telescope to look at a certain part of the night sky, as well as record digital images and videos.

“The observatory will help IPFW recruit undergraduates interested in astronomy,” said Gillam. “It will be a big part of the astronomy option for physics majors and will provide the tools undergrads need for astronomical research.”

Although undergraduate astronomy students will be the primary users of the observatory, Gillam plans on opening up the observatory to school-age children who have an interest in the things they see when they look up at the night sky.

Construction is underway for the observatory. Gillam expects it to be complete July 21. The observatory will be operational near the beginning of the fall 2015 semester.

Funding for the project came from the Department of Physics, the College of Arts and Sciences (COAS), and the Office of Research, Engagement, and Sponsored Programs (RESP).

For more information, go to the IPFW Society of Physics Students Facebook page, or contact Steve Gillam at 260-481-6150 or